By Anna Landsverk
Crickets chirp, lily pads reflect soft green light and hundreds of wiggly elementary school children wait in anticipation for the lights to go up.
Children from all around the Fargo-Moorhead area were bussed in to the Stage at Island Park in downtown Fargo for the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theater (FMCT) production“A Year with Frog and Toad,” which ran Feb. 9–11 and 16–18.
The performances were a collaboration between FMCT and the MSUM Department of Theatre and Dance, with all of the cast and several of the crew members involved with MSUM in some way. The collaboration serves as a cross-pollination of interests, with FMCT members and the Fargo-Moorhead community finding out more about MSUM and students discovering or becoming involved with FMCT.
Emily Moser and Axel Xiong attended the final show to support their fellow Dragons.
“We came here to support John and just the rest of the MSUM alumni,” Xiong said. He and Moser were both pleasantly surprised by the show.
“The actors did a good job,” Moser said. “I know if that was me, I would be embarrassed to be that cheesy on stage, so I think they did a really good job of going out there and just giving it their all—not even caring.”
The show, directed by theater professional and MSUM alumna Anna Carol, featured two current students, one recent alumna and two former MSUM students in its cast. Brandon Hecker, a senior at MSUM, played the nervous but lovable Toad alongside his best friend Frog (Benjamin Stoddard) and the three members of the animal ensemble, Kate Arness, John Nickell and Jamie Peterson.
One unique feature of the collaboration between FMCT and the theater and dance department was that the actors were paid for their work.
“It’s nice for you to really be able to utilize the skills you’re learning at school and get paid to do what you love and what you’ve been training to do,” Nickell said.
Nickell had been involved with other MSUM productions, such as the summer Straw Hat Players, as had most of the cast.
“I think every single person in the cast has at least been in one Straw Hat company for the summer too, so everyone has already worked in a much more hectic, speed-paced environment; it was easier to transfer that and almost be able to slow down then for ‘Frog and Toad’ rehearsals,” Nickell said.
He explained that the rehearsal schedule accommodated the needs of students and graduates alike, with the rehearsals allowing the cast to continue their day jobs. However, the flexibility in no way meant that the cast and crew had time to slack off—there was still a lot of work to be done in a short period of time.
“Especially for this, there’s always your commitment level that needs to be at 100 percent when you’re in a show,” Nickell said.
“Any show, even when you’re not getting paid, but especially for Straw Hat and ‘Frog and Toad’ where you’re getting paid, it’s an extra realization that this is your job. You’re getting paid for it; you need to be on your A game 110 percent of the time.”
However, despite all the hard work, Nickell hopes that the kids walk away with a good experience and that they too will become interested in theater.
“I really hope that they had fun during it because that really is the whole point—to make a fun day for the kids and to make a fun show,” Nickell said. “But I guess also realize that, and I don’t know if they will get this out of it, but I do hope that they start to realize that they can do this too, that they can participate as well.”